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Securing the Things You Connect to the Internet

Connected or “smart” devices are fun and convenient — but they can gather and transmit sensitive information about your life and family. Here are steps you can take to maintain household security.

Photo of a girl adjusting a home thermostat with family in background.

As home automation enthusiasts rush to connect digital devices — a video doorbell, a wireless home security kit, a set of Wi-Fi lightbulbs — they are helping build a new ecosystem of convenience, safety and efficiency. That ecosystem is the Internet of Things (IoT), the burgeoning global network of connected “smart” devices. Within five years, the Internet of Things may comprise more than 41 billion internet-connected objects.1

For consumers, these devices already have elevated household conveniences and services to futuristic heights. Think sensor-based home-monitoring and communications systems, energy-efficient automated appliances, always-on virtual assistants and self-driving automobiles.

Each device connected to a network, however, is also an endpoint that criminals can exploit. And research shows they are doing just that: One study found that 29% of businesses experienced a data breach caused by an unsecured IoT device in 2019 — a number that has doubled since 2017.2

But the problems are not just a function of cyber criminals and insecure devices. Many consumers don’t take responsibility for device security and unwittingly open themselves to compromise.

For instance, smartphone users often grant broad access to their device’s location services, camera, microphone, contacts and calendar — without considering whether these permissions are legitimate and how the data they generate will be secured. By providing this access, users may unintentionally open access to additional data on the device, including very sensitive information like system credentials, credit card numbers and contact information for colleagues, clients, friends and family.

Icon of an internet router, Icon of woman with a home computer, Icon of connected thermostat, Icon of a security system control panel, Icon of a smart wristwatch & a Icon of a connected television

Simple ways to protect your home and its devices

Smart security begins with an assessment of the devices that constitute your personal or family digital footprint. It’s a good idea to make a list of IoT devices in use, how they

connect to the internet and what data they generate and share. All this will help you determine potential cyber security vulnerabilities.

Some devices, like Wi-Fi videocams and car navigation systems, have been subject to highly publicized hacks. But the full spectrum of potential vulnerabilities doesn’t always make the news.

Smart devices may collect data about your personal life, dwelling, habits or financial accounts. This may refine their performance and make them easier to use, but if the devices remain in public access mode, all this information may end up on the internet, where advertisers may harvest it to expand your consumer profile. This may result in an increase in unwanted pop-up ads as you browse the internet.

Cyber criminals also use personal information to launch social-engineering campaigns, in which they use information gathered about individuals to craft communications that look legitimate but are actually scams.

The risks associated with revealing personal information online demonstrate why it’s important to review any device’s security capabilities. Find out what data is collected, how it is protected and what sharing lists are selected. Explore the product’s security and privacy settings to find out what data-generating features can — and should — be switched off. Also review the IoT device’s privacy settings to make sure you are not unintentionally sending device information to unintended locations, such as your social media accounts.

If you’re purchasing more robust equipment like wireless routers and tablets, find out if the latest security features are included. It is also important to know whether or not those standards can be updated as the technology evolves. The best security can provide powerful encryption and protection against attacks designed to compromise user credentials.

8 IoT Security Tweaks

These tips may help you safeguard your IoT devices and data, while also limiting your digital footprint:

1. Create and maintain an inventory of home IoT devices and applications.

2. Consider maintaining IoT devices on a separate network from your computers, tablets, and phones.

3. Regularly update all device software. If available, turn on automatic updates.

4. Use your router’s network configuration tool to see what devices are attached and disconnect unknown or suspicious devices or connections.

5. Change your router’s default password and its network name (SSID).

6. Create strong passwords for devices, and change user and object names.

7. Create a Wi-Fi guest network.

8. Enable encryption on your router. 

Stay connected, stay protected

To help keep your account information safe and secure during this period, make sure your contact information is up to date and set up security and account alerts (deep link) so we can stay in touch. Remember, if we need to reach out to you, we’ll NEVER ask for personal or financial information or an access code through email, text or unsolicited calls. Visit our Security Center or https://staysafeonline.org for tips on how to recognize potential scams and learn more about how to keep your accounts safe.

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